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‘I never do anything that I don’t enjoy’

Ruskin Bond on his latest work, how everything inspires him and why his books always have such a visual element to them

My first encounter with Ruskin Bond was when I casually picked up a copy of his A Season of Ghosts when I was in college. I admit, it was a rather late introduction to the author’s works, but it was one that had me hooked. His words painted vivid visuals in my mind, and as I went on to read his other books, it was almost like I was a part of the imagery he created. Understandably, I was in awe of the man who has won so many hearts through his writing.

As I called the author, who is set to release his latest collection of short stories titled Death under the Deodars: The Adventures of Miss Ripley Bean later this month, I wondered how the chat would go. And just then a deep, friendly voice answered the phone with “Buckingham Palace,” before guffawing. The 82-year-old author goes on to explain, “I like to do that when I’m feeling like royalty. And this afternoon, I’ve been feeling rather good.”

In a free-wheeling chat, the author talks about his latest book, a collection of sinister stories.

Excerpts:

Tell us about Death Under the Deodars .

Most of the stories in this book are set here in the hills. It is a completely new set of stories that I wrote in the past year.

And instead of telling them straight as mysteries or crime stories, I’ve told them through the memories of an elderly lady called Miss Ripley Bean.

You have a fascination for intrigue and mystery...

I guess it’s a somewhat recent development. Earlier, the books I wrote were more romantic or adventurous. Then I decided to try something new, something macabre. But there’s always a vein of humour running through my stories.

I also try to recreate the atmosphere of the hills from 30 to 40 years ago in my books.

And at the end of the day, I just want to tell a good story, because that is what I am; a good story teller.

So the hills continue to inspire you?

Well, I’m a compulsive writer. Even if I’m not writing something to get it published, I’d be penning down idle thoughts. Along the way, I’ve managed to earn a decent living from my writing. That also motivates me; after all I have to support myself and a fairly large adoptive family.

But then, I never do anything that I don’t enjoy. I’ve been rather lucky in that sense.

I live in a nice place and among nice people. I get inspiration from a lot of things around me — nature, hills, people and even insects (chuckles).

The last couple of years we’ve seen a lot of adaptations and anthologies of your past works. Death Under the Deodars is a new work that’s coming in after a short hiatus?

You’re right. There have been some adaptations that have been coming out of late. I’ve been writing for over 60 years and a lot of my earlier works have been reprinted. But there’s a lot of new stuff that I’m working on currently. There’s also an autobiography in the offing.

How do you prefer to write? Has technology made writing any easier?

(laughs) I think I am the last man standing. I think I’m from the 18th century, not even the 19th. I don’t even use a typewriter. I prefer longhand and that’s how I submit my manuscripts to my publishers.

They’re kind enough to transcribe my works and send me printouts. In fact, I don’t even use a fountain pen; it’s too messy. I just use a regular ball point pen.

Your books for children have never been dumbed down. Is that a conscious effort?

Not really. I’ve never written specifically for children as such. I write to please myself and if it is suitable, it gets printed as a children’s book. I don’t consciously simplify my works, nor do I write down to kids. I do however, stay away from topics like adult sex.

Have you ever faced a writer’s block?

Very rarely. I won’t usually just sit down to write. I’d have done it in my head already. I visualise a story just like a film strip running in my head. I guess that is also a reason why my books have such a visual element to them. And it’s what I tell young writers: plan your story ahead.

You’ve also curated some books?

Yes, I did one curation for Penguin Love Among Bookshelves. They are a collection of stories that I grew up on. It was rather well received and I am currently working on a sequel.

What do you think of the books that we see today?

Well, fashions change and tastes change as well. Usually the sort of books that top the bestseller lists are written to meet the demands of the reading public at the time. I don’t look down on popular literature, but it’s stuff that comes and goes.

A lot of people end up trying to do the same thing; it gets monotonous.

What are you currently reading?

On my desk right now is the Oxford Dictionary (laughing). I’m always looking for new words and their origins because I am always running short of words.

There’s also a book of photographs by Prabhudas Gupta. Then there’s a Namita Gokhale book that has just come in the mail — Things to Leave Behind . A detective novel from Canada that I’m reading as well. And of course, The History of Mr Polly by H.G. Wells that I am reading again after 40 years. It’s a really funny book and I love revisiting old favourites.



The sort of books that top the bestseller lists are written to meet the demands of the reading public at the time



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